Inclusion in Our Schools: Why?

The following article comes from the International Issues Committee Newsletter. If you’d like additional information about the TASH International Issues Committee or contributing an article to this newsletter, please send an e-mail to Julia White at

Inclusion in Our Schools: Why?

By Ashleigh Molloy, Transformation Education Institute

Inclusion. According to the Webster Dictionary, the meaning of the root word “include” is as follows: 1. contain, compromise; 2. put in total, a class, or the like; 3. allow to participate.  The dictionary further clarifies that in this context, compromise emphasizes being made up of parts going together to make the whole. The word “inclusion” is defined as being included.  So let’s apply this information in the education system. Inclusion means that students are in one class where each participates and comes together to make up the whole.  Thus, the argument is not whether we should have special needs students in our classes but rather that we must have them present because they are an integral component of a class.  Simply stated, they are needed to make the whole.

Why?  On the most basic level, the answer is simple.  If we view our classes as microcosms of our society, we must include students with special needs in our classes because people with special needs are members of our society.  When children enter the school system, they begin to learn and practice how to function within a community.  For real learning to occur, it is essential that our class community duplicate as closely as possible that of the outside world and that our students are actively involved in the process.  Students with special needs need to interact with typically developing students and typically developing students need to interact with students with special needs.

If the answer is simple, then why has this not always been the case?  Well, according to a popular line of thought which I share, the education system, as we know today, was first established as a response to the industrial revolution and its aftermath of needing to train people to fill jobs.  One could argue that in an agrarian society children with special needs were integrated into everyday life according to their skills and abilities and that those around them filled the gaps and provided support where needed. With the advent of formal schooling, however, this way of life was replaced by segregating young people and placing them in an institution, often bound by rules, expectations, and goals.  In comparison, this system was rigid and not malleable.  The children with special needs could not fit in.  The classrooms were little factories for learning, and if some “products” were broken, they were discarded.  The special needs population was at odds with the evidence model of the Industrial Revolution.

The fact that people did not protest is not surprising.  After all, earlier in our history popular belief described women as not being able to suffer the rigor of thinking hard because the activity would cause them to “swoon”.  African-Americans were segregated in schools because of their skin color.

However, we no longer hold on to those ideas as being valid.  Today women, people of color as well as people with disabilities can no longer legally be discriminated against.  Reality however, is different and acts of discrimination occur everyday on both a formal and informal basis.  In reference to this absurd fact I would like to point out that children with special needs who attend a school with a traditional special education model receive a message that may be interpreted, as “You are not allowed to be in a regular classroom.”  Sounds like discrimination to me.  But I digress, back to the argument that we need students with special needs in a class in order to reflect our diverse society.  I believe, that for maximum development to occur, for them to become well-rounded individuals, all children must have the opportunity to interact with, learn from and play with one another.  Restricting children from doing so fractures the concept of wholeness. Inclusion is the obvious model.  Children with special needs in their response to exclusion have a right to pose this question: “Why are we not allowed in your classroom?”  Parents in particular are waiting in anticipation for an answer.

Martin Luther King in his famous address spoke about change that included ensuring full citizenship for African-Americans.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color but by the content of their character.”

Like Mr. King, I too have a dream, that the diversity among our students be respected and fully embraced in schools through the practice of inclusion across the nation.